SIOP'S Pro Bono Initiative
Ann Marie Ryan
Michigan State University
A few years back, in his presidential address, Jim Farr talked about
the need for SIOP members to "give psychology away." At a SIOP Executive
Committee strategic planning meeting held in January of 1998, a top priority that emerged
was encouraging I-O psychologists to take on pro bono projects that can help society while
enhancing the visibility of SIOP and its members. Since that meeting, members of SIOP's
executive committee have spend time discussing and defining what SIOP's role in the
encouragement of pro bono work might be. The outcome of those discussions led to the
following framework for the initiative:
The purposes of this initiative are to encourage members to do pro bono
work. By pro bono work, we mean activities undertaken gratis by SIOP members that relate
to the work of I-O psychology. By endorsing member pro bono activity, SIOP does not
endorse any particular political, social, or religious group or agenda; rather the society
recognizes the importance of giving psychology away to those organizations and individuals
who may not have the resources to afford such work but would benefit from it.
Activities associated with the initiative are:
A regular TIP column highlighting particular outlets and/or
pro bono activities of members.
Environmental scanning to identify potential opportunities of
particular interest to SIOP members (e.g., requests from national not-for-profits; large
scale volunteer efforts that have need of SIOP expertise) and alerting the membership of
Website to serve as a clearinghouse for individuals and organizations
that want to participate in pro bono activities that relate to the work of SIOP.
Publicize the initiative in a limited way to not-for-profits with the
goal of generating highly visible projects that might then be publicized to members.
In the weeks ahead, president-elect Angelo DeNisi will be appointing an
individual to spearhead this initiative. If you have thoughts or ideas related to the
initiative activities, please contact Angelo or the SIOP Administrative Office.
Some questions you may have are: Why is SIOP pursuing this? Isn't
this something for individuals to decide to pursue on their own? And Who has time
for this? (Or at least those were some of my initial questions).
In answer to the first, we can point to the many professions (including
psychology in general) where some level of pro bono work is considered an appropriate
professional contribution (e.g., lawyers, doctors). We recognize that organizations and
individuals who cannot readily afford the services of an I-O psychologist might benefit
greatly (and society itself benefit) from those services. Finally, one way to enhance the
visibility and understanding of industrial/organizational psychology as a field is to
increase access to what we do.
In answer to the second question, SIOP most definitely does see this as
a matter of individual choice. However, the society also recognizes that it can take a
role as a facilitator of individual efforts and help collectives of individuals tackle
large-scale pro bono projects. Such projects can have long-lasting societal impact but can
also help advance our research understanding. For example, a number of SIOP members were
involved in pro bono work with the National Association of Secondary School Principals
which led to the use of assessment center technology in evaluating principal candidates.
This project led to a widespread adoption of I-O tools and techniques, to a number of
research studies, and also to further paid work for some society members. One goal of the
initiative is to facilitate individuals working together on larger efforts.
The third question was personally the most troubling for me. A few
years ago I attempted to do some pro bono work in the area of job-seeking skills and
employability skills training with individuals on probation. I learned a tremendous amount
during the months I was involved with this effort, but I felt I could not continue to make
the time commitment required. Thus, I thought it might be helpful to seek out some
individuals who I know are extremely busy people but who have been able to be involved at
some level in pro bono work and find out more about what they do and how they do it.
Laura Koppes, of Tri-State University School of Business and SIOP's
historian, described her work on the board of directors for two organizations, the Steuben
County Literacy Coalition, and the Elijah Haven Crisis Intervention Center which is an
agency for domestic violence victims. How has Laura contributed her services as an I-O
psychologist to these organizations? She has done job analyses for both paid and volunteer
positions, assisted in recruitment and selection activities, and brought her knowledge of
I-O to bear on the formulation of various policies for both organizations. Laura notes
that besides the personal rewards of giving something to one's community and seeing
improvements as a result of one's efforts, there are professional rewards from
generalizing one's skills to new situations and problems. As a busy person herself, Laura
says you must find a way to make the time to engage in pro bono activities.
I also contacted Bill Balzer, chair of the psychology department at
Bowling Green State University, and a very busy mentor, researcher, and dad, and asked him
to talk about work he has done and how he does it. Bill provides I-O psychology consulting
services pro bono to the Children's Resource Center, a mental health facility for
children. In addition to general consultation to the executive team, Bill has assisted the
organization in developing various personnel systems (e.g., a performance appraisal
process for staff) and assessing employee attitudes. Bill finds that the work is very
rewarding when you believe in the organization's mission and that organizations such as
this are very appreciative of your expertise. He also notes that research has indicated
that you may find a task more satisfying when it is not for payment. Bill indicates that
BGSU's graduate program encourages pro bono work among students as well, as a way to
enhance the community, develop the skills of students, and provide research opportunities.
When I asked Bill how he finds the time for such activities, he noted that, like exercise,
you have to establish this as a priority and somehow schedule it in. He also notes that
non-paying recipients of your services are usually very willing to work around your
Both Laura and Bill are in academic settings, which typically afford an
individual some control over his/her schedule. What about busy practitioners? I contacted
Lisa Bordinat, Kirk Rogg, and John Arnold of Aon Consulting regarding their pro bono work.
All three mentioned their involvement in pro bono work came from the suggestions or
requests of current clients who had links to nonprofit groups. Like Laura, Lisa is
involved with work with Haven, a local organization dedicated to the elimination of
domestic violence, sexual assault, and child abuse. She is involved with providing
compensation training to managers in a case where the organization has grown to need
greater structure. Lisa feels that pro bono efforts allow you to use your skills to have
an impact in an area you personally feel strongly about, and provide an organization with
something that is truly needed but that would otherwise not be undertaken because of cost.
One way Lisa suggests fitting pro bono work into a busy schedule is to treat it like any
other project. At Aon, she is accountable for this project's cost, time, and deadlines as
she would for any other project. Having her organization's commitment and acting on her
own personal passion helps her to find the time and energy for this project. She suggests
that SIOP members think of ways they can volunteer their skills in small ways to local
organizations (e.g., helping a church or temple use a structured interview guide for
screening childcare workers).
Kirk Rogg and John Arnold describe Aon's view on pro bono work as a
win-win opportunity. They have worked with Focus Hope, a Detroit-based nonprofit agency
that works to provide job and life skills to underprivileged minorities. Besides providing
general information on the skills required for success in manufacturing jobs, they refined
and evaluated a telephone-based, automated tool to pre-screen applicants into the
assessment process for jobs with large automotive manufacturers. Their involvement in the
project enabled those receiving the organization's high quality training to connect with
those offering well-paying jobs. Kirk and John noted that the project took a fairly
substantial amount of time, but felt it had both personal and professional payoff.
Personally, it was exciting to see their work have a major life impact on individuals.
Professionally, they were able to obtain information to refine a pre-screening product.
In summary, it's important to note that SIOP as an organization
encourages pro bono work by members and that many of your fellow SIOP members are actively
involved in such work (Thanks to Laura, Bill, Lisa, Kirk and John for being willing to
share what they do). In the months ahead, SIOP hopes to do more to encourage member
involvement in both local pro bono work as well as large-scale projects on a national and
If You Have a Pro Bono Project to Suggest, Please Contact:
Angelo DeNisi, SIOP President-Elect
Department of Management
Texas A&M University
College Station, TX 77843-4221
Phone: (409) 862-3963
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